NFL retirees file complaint against league, players

DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director (C) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (C) arrive for labor negotiations between NFL players and owners with federal mediation in Washington on March 3, 2011. The current collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight tonight and a lockout is possible but not definite if none is reached. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg.

According to, a group of NFL retirees has filed a complaint against the league and its current players for not allowing them to be a part of the ongoing labor discussions.

The retired players say that NFL owners, the NFL Players’ Association and a group of current players including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are “conspiring to depress the amounts of pension and disability benefits to be paid to former NFL players in order to maximize the salaries and benefits to current NFL players.”

The complaint said the players’ decision to decertify their union makes it an antitrust violation for the owners and current players to negotiate for retired players.

It also alleges that the NFL had said it would tap revenue streams both from within and outside the salary cap to help retired players, union representatives including DeMaurice Smith want all the money delegated for the cap to be given to current players.

“Through the settlement they are forging, the Brady plaintiffs, the NFLPA and the NFL defendants are conspiring to set retiree benefits and pension levels at artificially low levels,” the complaint alleged.

I’ve spoken with a handful of current players during the lockout, including Jared Allen (Vikings), Kellen Winslow Jr. (Bucs) and Stanford Routt (Raiders), and they’ve all said the same thing: They want to make sure that during this labor dispute, they represent the players that paved the way for them and their careers. Even though I only spoke with a handful of these players, I get the sense that they want what’s best not only for themselves, but for retirees as well.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that DeMaurice Smith, the owners, the mediators or the lawyers want wants best for the retirees, which is where the problem lies. Thirty years ago, players weren’t making what they are today and obviously our society has advanced from a medical standpoint over that span as well. Thus, retirees want to make sure that the league in which they broke bones, spilled blood and suffered long-lasting physical alignments will take care of them now that they’re older. And it’s not fair that current players represent the retirees in this labor strife. The retirees should represent the retirees because they know what’s best for themselves. How could Drew Brees possibly know what’s best for Franco Harris?

As a fan, I would hate to see anything derail the progress that the owners and players have made over the last month. But what’s right is right. And what’s right is that the retirees have a voice at these labor negotiations. Of course, the whole situation could backfire on them too, so this complaint may all be for naught.

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5 questions with Brian Frederick of

While the NFL owners and players continue to battle in court about how to split the $9 billion pie, some fans are not sitting idly by waiting to find out what happens. Brian Frederick, the executive director of, is one of those who is literally fighting on behalf of the fans–the fans like you who continue to get shafted by greedy sports team owners and overpaid players. We had the chance to ask Brian a few questions recently about and some of the current issues affecting fans:

The Scores Report: First, if you can tell me briefly about how you started your organization and some of the things that you stand for?

Brian Frederick: Sports Fans Coalition was founded in 2009 by the chair of our board, David Goodfriend, a former Clinton White House staffer. He put together a great board, including a member of the Bush White House. I was brought on in August of 2010 to be the first full-time employee. We were founded to give sports fans a voice on public policy issues; to bring the voice of the fan to the halls of power. We are concerned about issues like media blackouts, stadium construction, ticket prices, work stoppages and the lack of a college football playoff.

TSR: I read that you were trying to earn a seat at the initial labor negotiations. Did anyone respond to you at all and if so, what did they say?

BF: After one of the mediation sessions in DC, DeMaurice Smith asked to speak with me and he and I walked back to his office and chatted. He said we had written a great letter and he was interested in some of our ideas. He saw no reason, for instance, that a new CBA couldn’t include language ending blackouts. I am still hopeful that he will try to include that in whatever the new CBA looks like, but I am not holding my breath. I never heard from Roger Goodell.

TSR: Now that the appeals hearing is set for June 3 and a ruling might not come down until a month later, do you think any games will be missed?

BF: It depends on the ruling (and further appeals). I’ve always felt that we are likely to lose some early games but not the whole season. That’s not to say that there’s not a chance the whole season will be lost, it just seems unlikely because this is just over how to divide revenue within a structure that works. The NFL doesn’t have the deeper problems that the NBA does, for instance. If the owners win their appeal, I think we’re looking at some lost games. If the players win, I think there’s a better chance for football in the fall.

TSR: Do you think the NFL has done enough damage to this point that will make fans boycott, at least to some degree?

BF: The NFL is certainly damaging its brand every day this dispute drags on. I don’t think it’s caused enough harm yet that fans will boycott. Only after games are missed will there even be a chance of enough fans uniting to take action. This is unfortunate, of course, because that is what the NFL and NFLPA are counting on — that fans won’t care until games are missed. But that attitude (like a game of chicken) is exactly what leads to missed games. There’s this sort of attitude among fans that it will get worked out — “they always work it out.” Well, they don’t always work it out. Sometimes there are games missed and even whole seasons.

TSR: When players and owners say how important the fan is, do you believe them? Why or why not?

BF: I believe that they believe the fans are important in the sense that they are important to their bottom line. They are interested in treating fans as loyal consumers and they don’t want to jeopardize that relationship. They want the fans to have an enjoyable experience and to pay as much money as they are able to in order to have that experience. They don’t mind that they lose fans who can’t afford to follow anymore. That’s troubling. Sport doesn’t have to be that way. At we’re trying to empower sports fans and fight for a different way of thinking about sports — one that places what’s great about sports (passion, camaraderie, fair competition, athleticism, etc.) ahead of huge profits.

For more information about Sports Fan Coalition and, please visit

Did the NFLPA overplay its hand?

I really don’t care which side “wins” this battle between the NFL owners and the players. Both sides have a ridiculous amount of cash-flow to split, and it’s tough to understand that in these difficult times that they can’t play nice and come to an agreement.

Also, the owners started the fight and got smacked down by a federal judge for improperly negotiating to receive $4 billion in income from television networks even if a work stoppage canceled games in the 2011 season. They were looking for an edge, and they got caught.

With this backdrop, the owners moved considerably with the offer they put on the table last week in an attempt to keep the negotiations going. They backed off the 18-game schedule, and moved a great deal on many of the financial terms. Sure, it was a last-minute offer, and they only made it after losing the court decision, but it deserved serious consideration by the NFLPA. They should have presented it to their players. The NFL was willing to go with another short-term extension of the bargaining session.

Instead, the union responded by demanding 10 years of audited financial statements from the teams. Anyone who knows anything about business will tell you that there’s no way the owners would ever give this much financial information, and this suggests that the NFLPA had predetermined to go to court and try to gain leverage rather than agreeing to a deal. If they were serious about negotiating, they could have insisted on more financial information without demanding 10 years of audited statements.

It was a high-risk strategy, and it suggests that the lawyers for the NFLPA, along with DeMaurice Smith, had hijacked the process on behalf of the players. I suspect that many players were dumbfounded when they heard the last offer from the owners and that the union had still decided to decertify instead of continuing to negotiate.

Now we have the response from the attorneys for the NFL in the lawsuit filed by the players, and it takes direct aim and the decertification decision, arguing that this was simply a “bargaining tactic” by the NFLPA. After listing numerous examples of players and union officials acknowledging that this was a tactic to be used to gain leverage as opposed to a serious and permanent move, the NFL put forward this argument:

In light of the mountain of evidence demonstrating that the NFLPA had long been planning a tactical disclaimer, not one that is unequivocal and in good faith, the NFL filed a charge with the NLRB on February 14, 2011, asserting that the NFLPA had violated its statutory obligation imposed by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) to bargain in good faith. (Ex. K.) The NFL has amended the charge to assert that the Union’s purported “disclaimer” is invalid because it violates the NLRA. (Ex. L.) Proceedings before the Board are ongoing.

Basically, the NFL is arguing that this move by the NFLPA is a sham, and that the court has no jurisdiction here while this is being argued before the National Labor Relations Board. I’m not an expert in labor law, but as a lawyer I was impressed by the arguments put forward by the NFL in their brief. The idea that the union could flip a switch and go from collective bargaining to claiming anti-trust violations for items that had been bargained in the past simply by decertifying seems grossly unfair.

Now John Clayton is reporting that the NFLPA recently reached out to the NFL to resume negotiations, but that everything is complicated by the fact that the union has decertified.

During the weekend, NFL players — now under the direction of a trade association — reached out to NFL owners and negotiators and extended an invitation to get back to the table to try to pound out a collective bargaining agreement. DeMaurice Smith, who used to have the title of executive director of the NFL Players Association, went even further Monday, sending a letter to Gregg Levy, one of the lead attorneys for the NFL.

Talks could resume as early as next Monday, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for a deal to be struck within five days of the start of meetings.

But the NFL, according to NFL sources, will meet with the trade association executive board only if the board says it’s a union bargaining for its players.

The player representatives never would have offered to resume negotiations had they not gotten an earful from various players. Also, the union is in a real bind if they lose in court, and the NFL seems to have a strong argument regarding the decertification ploy. Also, this move to negotiate also supports the NFL argument that the entire decertification scenario was a sham.

The best result for everyone involved, including the fans, may be the court siding with the owners in the next round. The sooner they get this out of the hands of the lawyers, the sooner this dispute will be resolved.

Photo by Bill Moore

Putting the NFL’s potential lockout in dummy terms

If you, like me, live in fear of the fall of 2011 having no NFL football, but don’t understand all of the legal mumbo-jumbo associated with the labor dispute, I’m hear to put things in terms we all can understand.

First things first, and that is that the owners unanimously opted out of the current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) in 2008, one that they had signed off on in 2006. Since I’m making this as easy as possible to understand, let me tell you that a CBA is the agreement two sides, usually labor and management, come to on various topics, most of which include how money will be divided. And in this case, the owners realized that player salaries were escalating out of control and that their profits were being squeezed more each year. Yes, part of the problem is they are agreeing to these salaries, and player agents are a huge part of that. In the bigger picture, the real problem is revenue sharing, a.k.a. how to split the financial pie. And while the NFL is bringing in a ridiculous amount of money ($7.6 billion in 2008), about 62% of that goes to player salaries, a number that keeps climbing due to increases in the overall salary cap. To make matters worse, there is also revenue sharing among teams, meaning the big market teams have to help the small market teams to help them compete with each other on the field.

So the owners want something like 18% of the pie back, in the form of salary cuts to the players. Naturally, the players do not want to give them this money back, and that is why head of the players’ union DeMaurice Smith announced during the Super Bowl’s hype week that the chance of a lockout were a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10. For his part, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell denounced that, saying he hoped it wouldn’t come to a work stoppage, but he also knows that it’s a very real possibility. The players aren’t necessarily saying they won’t give part of the pie back, either. Smith wants the owners to show the players that they are struggling to run their businesses, meaning he wants them to open up their books. And the owners won’t do it. So are the numbers being reported not what they say? It’s hard to say the owners aren’t lying about these numbers, when they keep agreeing to player contracts and they keep building huge state-of-the-art stadiums, but they also have the right to not open their books if they don’t want to. And the bottom line is that the owners are not happy about doling out more and more of their profits.

Then, of course, there is the issue of an uncapped 2010 season. The current structure calls for a salary cap through the 2009 season, with 2010 being an uncapped year if the owners opt out of the CBA, which they did. Last time this happened, in 1993, player salaries rose to 69% of NFL revenue, and that is expected to happen again. But of course, nothing is guaranteed in 2011, so the players have to be careful of what they wish for.

If organized sports have taught us anything, it’s that the possibility of no games being played can and will happen. You might remember the NFL had a similar situation in 1987, and the owners used replacement players for a few games before the dispute was resolved and the regular players went back to work. MLB cancelled the last two months of the 1994 season as well as the playoffs and World Series, a black mark they have not recovered from. The NBA had a similar situation in 1998-99, with almost half a season being wiped out. And of course, the freshest in our memories is the NHL’s 2004-05 season that was not played due to a labor dispute.

So as fans, we have to hope a few things happen between now and the summer of 2011, which is spewing a black cloud that keeps getting darker and more imposing by the day. We have to hope the owners agree to open up their books, and we have to hope the players agree to give back part of the pie for the health and financial well being of the NFL. Sure, we want the players we love to watch get the money they deserve, but within reason. Certainly it’s not worth much to anyone to have no NFL games being played, but it may very well come to that.

Of course, the NFL is not the only business that would be affected by a lockout. Besides the local businesses near stadiums that thrive during the season, fantasy football and all of the money (reported as upwards of $3 billion in 2007) associated with that is threatened here. Think about that for a second. The folks that make their livelihood in that world will be flattened financially. Well, maybe that’s going to be the subject of my next piece on this, but for the moment I wanted to do my part to help everyone understand the dispute between owners and players, and what it all really means.

Many think that a lockout won’t really happen, and I’m optimistic myself that it won’t. But history surely does make us all nervous, doesn’t it?

Mr. Smith goes to the negotiating table

In March, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) made an historic move by electing Washington D.C. power attorney DeMaurice Smith as their new executive director, and skeptics wondered if this was the right time for the union to bring an outsider into a leadership role. All eyes will be watching as he begins negotiation with the NFL on a new labor contract this week in New York.

Smith wowed the NFLPA’s board with an hour-long presentation detailing his plan for their upcoming collective bargaining sessions, as he promised to use his Congressional friends to challenge the league’s long-standing anti-trust exemption in order to obtain a better deal.

The owners have believed for a long time that the players’ cut of the revenue pie has been too big for too long, and opted out of the current agreement last year, which almost guarantees that there will be no salary cap for the 2010 season. With concerns of a slowing economy, the owners feel that escalating salaries within the league could impact the revenue stream for several clubs.

Smith recognizes the economic challenges facing the league, and has requested the NFL to open each team’s financial books. The league’s negotiating team has rejected his request and claims the union has enough information to secure a fair deal.

Many NFL insiders feel the league is at a disadvantage in this upcoming labor negotiation due to the fact that Smith is an unknown entity. He speaks like a politician (insisting on calling the players “businessmen”) and promises the union will maintain a hard line stance in the upcoming labor negotiations.

Everyone involved expects to play football in 2010, albeit without a salary cap, but Smith warns the owners that no new agreement will include a salary cap if the 2010 season is played without one. There is a good possibility that some form of a work stoppage will take place in 2011, either in the form of a players’ strike or an owners’ lockout prior to the start of training camp. Smith pointed out that a lockout would hurt not only the players, but the people and businesses that rely heavily on the NFL to make a living.

If the NFLPA had hired an insider that had a better understanding of the league’s politics and the current state of the labor/management relationship, many believe both parties would find common ground for a new agreement and the NFL would continue to flourish. But this isn’t the feeling anymore, as Smith encourages the players to prepare for war inside the board room.

It should be an interesting negotiation.

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